by | Sep 8, 2019 | Chris Goff, On writing | 5 comments

by Chris Goff

Ask any writer where they get their ideas, and most will tell you they have more ideas than they have time to write. But what triggers their inspiration?

I can’t speak for others, but outside of personal experiences, my ideas often start by reading something in the newspaper, from listening to people’s stories or something I’ve stumbled upon while doing research. Several of my writer friends collect their ideas on note cards or binders or files. Something pops into your head at the Chinese restaurant, you jot it down on your fortune. You read something in the newspaper, you clip the article. You hear a great story, you jot down the bullet points so you don’t forget it later.

In DARK WATERS and RED SKY some of the scenes come from direct personal experience—a place I’ve been, a job I’ve done. A lot of the action is extrapolated from a combination of newspaper headlines, research and imagination. I’m often driven by fear of what might come to pass.

Recently, several things have caught my attention and I’ve been trying to figure out how to bring them together into a story. Maybe you can help me?

Do you recognize this woman?

Most likely not. She was a Serbian flight attendant who holds the Guinness world record for surviving the highest fall without a parachute. In January of 1972, a suitcase bomb tore through the baggage compartment of JAT Flight 367 and the plane crashed killing everyone aboard―except Vesna Vulović. (Note: I modeled a plane crash in RED SKY after a real life event, though nobody lived.)

Vesna eventually made a full recovery, however her life was never the same. She walked with a limp. Her family was bankrupted by medical bills. She was forced to take a desk job with the airline (they worried about the publicity if she worked on-board). Later she was fired for aligning herself with the Socialist Party of Serbia.  (As one of the Rogue Readers, Larry Sheps said: it would be awesome if she was a spy.)

But here’s what I found most intriguing. She attributed her recovery to her Serbian stubbornness and a childhood diet of chocolate, spinach and fish oil.

Another case of survival.

A couple of years ago, I’d read a similar story in Reader’s Digest. On Christmas Eve, 1971, seventeen year-old Juliane Koepcke was flying over the Peruvian rainforest with her mother when their plane was struck by lightning. The plane went into a nose dive, broke in half and she fell two miles strapped in her seat. Waking up the next morning, she found herself all alone in the jungle. Having spent a year and a half in the rainforest at her parents’ research station, Juliane knew enough about the jungle to walk herself to safety. It only took her 10 days.

Again, there were details I found intriguing. She had lost her glasses. Being nearsighted, I know how much that impacted her ability to see. She was wearing a mini-dress and sandals, so she had little protection against the elements. At one point she swam in the river to avoid stingrays near the shore, while looking out for piranhas (which she learned “are dangerous only in standing water”) and caimans (alligator-like reptiles that “don’t generally attack people). And she pulled maggots out of a wound on her arm.

Then a more recent development.

I can remember in 2013 when Sharknado came out. The made for TV movie was about a waterspout that lifted sharks out of the water and deposited them in Los Angeles. Five sequels were spawned from there, all with appealing titles: Sharknado 2: The Second One, Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, Sharknado: The 4th Awakens and Sharknado 5: Global Swarming. Then along comes this, again from Rogue Reader Larry Sheps. Scooternado! Need I say more.

BUT, that’s not all. The headline news today is about the Florida man who parked his Smart car in his kitchen over the fear Hurricane Dorian would blow it away.

Again, I found myself quite intrigued. In Denver, where I live, there’s a love/hate relationship going on with scooters. A pilot program in 2018, there are now over 2,840 scooters in use around the city. Data shows that the scooters average about 4,800 rides per day, and supporters feel we’re well on our way to reducing single-occupant vehicle commute trips from 73% to 50% by 2030. But then there comes the complaints. 311 has registered over 100 complaints that include: people leaving scooters on the sidewalks and private property, throwing them into rivers, and driving recklessly. As for the man who parked his car in his kitchen, his wife said her car didn’t receive similar treatment. It had to stay in the garage.

I’ve filed all the above ideas convinced I’ll use them someday.

What if….

Miami is in the cross hairs of a category 4 hurricane. People are battening down the hatches. In two days, the President of the United States and President Díaz-Canel of Cuba are scheduled to meet at the Four Seasons Hotel. Meanwhile, a terrorist group is planning an attack using scooters to carry out a series of bombings. One of the perpetrators is rigging the scooters with explosives in his kitchen and his disgruntled wife decides she’s had enough. Stealing his Smart car, she heads for Naples, only to have the car breakdown in the middle of the Everglades. Stranded, all she has is a chocolate bar, a bottle of Fish Oil pills and her experience dealing with gators on the golf course to save her. Meanwhile….

What? It’s already got a better plot than Sharknado, and they made that a franchise.

Can you do better? Post your plot ideas, and I’ll send the one with the best idea a signed copy of RED SKY. Voting will be based on the number of emojis racked up between now and September 15th. In the event of no votes, the winner will be selected by a panel of judge (me). In the event of no entries…your bad.

Don’t Miss a Thing!



  1. Lisa Black

    As I also live in Florida, I saw the Scooternado article. Only in Florida…I scoffed though, because having gutted a senior living apartment building in NOLA after Katrina I can tell you that those suckers are bloody heavy! Once the battery dies it takes a great deal of brute force to move them. Though perhaps newer models have improved that factor.
    I have NO idea where my ideas come from, which worries me. Writers are supposed to function like a giant stew pot, in which every single fact, observation and experience gets tossed in and eventually used. Problem is I’m about the least observant person in the world! (Not a good qualification for either writer or crime scene investigator!)
    I love the plot. However I think she would need to start the chocolate and the fish oil earlier on. I have some Hershey’s here….

  2. Rogue Women Writers

    I have to admit that I burst out laughing when I read all of those "intriguing" plot points! As for entering your contest — save the prize for another entrant since I already read your terrific thriller RED SKY. As for another potential plot, just saw this in the SAN DIEGO UNION: "Police find 18' boat abandoned in the middle of a major road in Point Loma." Hmmmm. Karna Small Bodman

  3. Lisa Black

    Methinks the boat fell off its trailer mid-trip and the driver/sailor either didn’t notice, or figured ‘the hell with it.’

  4. Chris Goff

    I had no idea scooters would be heavy. I only remember the ones my kids had where you had to kick to go anywhere.
    Definitely she's down for Hershey's!

  5. Chris Goff

    LOL. I like the idea that the sailor didn't notice. Not sure I'd even have the boat in the book, just start when the sailor–or someone else–realizes the boat is missing.